Muhammad Ali’s Mightiest Punch – A humble tribute to a “Humble Mountain”

A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life - Muhammad Ali

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“I am the greatest! I am the greatest! I’m the greatest,” shouted Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., who later became known as the great Muhammad Ali, after he whipped Sonny Liston as royally as a man in the boxing ring can be whipped. Time.com called him “the lyrical heavyweight showman who thrilled the globe with his sublime boxing style, unpredictable wit, and gentle generosity – especially later in life”. Muhammad Ali died at 74, on Friday, 3rd June 2016. “Ali had been at HonorHealth Scottsdale Osborn Medical Center in Scottsdale since Thursday with what spokesman Bob Gunnell had described as a respiratory issue” reported CNN.com.

Born in Louisville, USA, at 6:35 p.m. on Jan. 17, 1942, Muhammad Ali did not born with a silver spoon in mouth. His father Cassius Sr. was a sign painter. According to an article published on Time.com, “when he was 8 or 9, an old white man harassed him while he played with friends near the railroad tracks, dragging him by his collar and shouting “shut your mouth, little n—-r” as Clay resisted (another man, the story goes, interceded and saved Clay from further harm). “Why can’t I be rich?” Clay once asked his father. Cassius Sr. touched his son’s hand. “Look here,” he said. “That’s why you can’t be rich.””

Back then the world did not know that the same young boy will grow into a heavyweight boxing champion, give millions in charity works, command an audience with presidents and the pope, the Dalai Lama, and meet on a mission with leaders like Fidel Castro, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein – a mission that he believed to be his duty towards the world. The world did noy know then that the same young boy will be watched by three billion people lighting and carrying the Olympic torch in 1996, in Atlanta .

“In 1990, Ali met with Saddam Hussein and helped secure the release of 14 American hostages from Iraq. He has traveled to Afghanistan as a United States messenger of Peace. Jimmy Carter called him “Mr. International Friendship.” After September 11, Ali publicly defended Islam, reminding Americans that terrorists don’t represent the millions who practice the religion. “I think the people should know the real truth about Islam,” Ali, his body shaking from Parkinson’s, said during America: A Tribute to Heroes, the benefit concert broadcast on all four networks on September 21, 2001. He showed that his words still had power. “You know me, I’m a boxer, I’m called the greatest of all time. People recognize me for being a boxer, a man of truth. And I wouldn’t be here representing Islam if it was really like the terrorists made it look . . . Islam is peace, against killing, murder, and the terrorists, and the people doing it in the name of Islam, are wrong.”” (Why Muhammad Ali matters to Everyone – Time.com)

Before talking about Ali’s final punch, let’s read from the same article about a few hard punches Ali landed on his challengers and how, at times, he survived their punches:

“In the 11th round, however, Frazier pummeled Ali with two left hooks. Ali staggered and barely survived the round. In the 15th and final stanza, Frazier landed one more roundhouse left, sending Ali to the canvas. He got back up, but by that point it was finished: Frazier won the fight on a unanimous decision. “If I was young, I’d have danced for 15 rounds,” Ali said in Muhammad Ali: His Life And Times. “Joe wouldn’t ever have caught me. But the first time we fought I was three-and-a-half years out of shape. He punched hard; he pressured me good. And laying on the ropes to save energy, I lost some rounds I could have won. But it would be wrong to say I gave the fight to Joe. I didn’t give it away. Joe earned it.””

“Ali won his next ten fights, before Ken Norton broke his jaw and beat him in a split decision in March of 1973. Ali won his rematch against Frazier in January 1974, but that wasn’t a title bout, since George Foreman had beaten Frazier in Jamaica, taking the heavyweight title from him. With his win over Smokin’ Joe, however, Ali would now get his second shot to reclaim the title, against Foreman, in the “Rumble in the Jungle.””

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Muhammad Ali is pictured above standing over fallen challenger Sonny Liston on May 25, 1965 in Lewiston, Maine. This image of the Heavyweight Champion became iconic and is recognized around the world  Image credit: dailymail.co.uk

“The fight was staged in a soccer stadium, under an African moon. In the first round, both men came out throwing haymakers. Joe Frazier, doing ringside commentary for the television broadcast, called the first round even. When he went back his corner, however, Ali felt tired. The plan was to dance all night, and make Foreman chase him. Ali ditched the script, however, and hung against the ropes in the second round, absorbing punishment from Foreman. Ali figured he’d save more energy getting hit than running around the ring, and that Foreman would tire out while attacking him. His corner was apoplectic. George Plimpton turned to Norman Mailer and wondered if a fix was in. “When he went to the ropes,” Dundee said, “I felt sick.”

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‘I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale, handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail,’ Ali said this before fighting George Foreman (above) in 1974 during the historic Rumble in the Jungle match in Zaire. Image Credit dailymail.co.ik

It was the most brilliant tactical move of Ali’s career. By seventh round, Foreman was lumbering, in slow motion. “I got a feeling that George is not gonna make it,” said Frazier on television before the eighth round. He didn’t. Right before the bell, Ali caught him with a left-right combination, and Foreman stumbled to the floor. He got up, but couldn’t go on: the ref stopped the fight. Muhammad Ali, over a decade after he first grabbed the heavyweight crown from Sonny Liston, seven years after his objection to Vietnam service cost him the championship, had regained the title. “Muhammad Ali has done it!” David Frost yelled on the broadcast, as Ali’s supporters spilled into the ring. “The great man has done it! This is the most joyous scene in the history of boxing!” After the broadcast showed replay of Ali’s closing blows, Frost harked back to the second Liston fight, barking: “That was not a phantom punch! That was not a phantom punch!” Three hours after a victory that bolstered his status as the most celebrated athlete, if not the most famous person, on the planet, a beaming Ali was spotted on a Zaire stoop, showing magic tricks to African children.”  (Why Muhammad Ali matters to Everyone – Time.com)

But Ali’s mightiest punch was yet to come. After all, Muhammad Ali was a human being. He was not God, and he knew it well. His strong conviction about the existence of God did not satisfy him; he wanted others to have it as well. His game had changed but nature did not. Challenging the opponents with unshakable confidence was his style right from the childhood.

With the new game, his target and the audience were different. Instead of powerful  punches, now he threw stinging words. Addressing a question asked by a child as to what would he do after he retired from boxing, Ali’s answer stunned the audience. “Life is real short,” Ali gravely answered after jokingly making snoring noises hinting he would just sleep! He meticulously broke down the number of hours in life that one is conscious and came up with number 16 that he said he had in his next 30 years of life before he turns 65, an old man.

“What am I gonna do in the next 16 years? What’s the best thing I can do?

Get ready to meet God,”

Muhammad Ali, meaning one who is beloved of God, sanguinely replied.

He added that material activities and success won’t take one to God.

He then confidently asked if there were people in the audience who believed in God. Some raised their hands. Then he asked how many were there who did not believe. In response a very few hands went up (as if they were afraid of getting his punch for doing so)!

Muhammad Ali then picked up a glass and asked them who made it. He asked who made the television? He said if he were to say none made it, they would think Mummad Ali was crazy. He went on and smashed those non-believers explaining if a human being is required to make even a tiny glass cup, a television and many other things, where did the moon came from? Where did the sun and other innumerable planets came from? Where did the heaven and hell came from? His point was clear; those who thought all these came on their own without any intelligent intervention were crazy. That was a punch on the ignorance of millions who still do not accept God’s existence. This was his mightiest punch as it carried the strength of his faith in the almighty God.

Ali wanted the world to be peaceful. He openly condemned terrorism in the name of Islam. Indeed, without the authority of God, the world cannot be peaceful. People are fighting and killing in the name of God but they are forgetting that God is one with different names. If Islam’s Allah were to be different from Christian’s God, Muhammad Ali wouldn’t’ have talked of God after he accepted Islam faith. The same God has innumerable names and multifarious energies through whom He manages the functions of cosmic creation, maintenance and annihilation.

“The almighty Personality of Godhead has three potencies—internal, external and marginal. The conditioned souls, who are condemned due to their forgetfulness of the Lord, are put under the control of the external potency when she creates the material world. The three modes of material nature keep the living entity in a constant state of fear (bhayam dvitiyabhinivesatah). The conditioned soul is always fearful due to being controlled by the external potency; therefore the conditioned soul should always pray to the almighty Lord to conquer the external potency (maya) so that she will no longer manifest her powers, which bind all living entities, moving and inert. By praying in this way one will become eligible to remain constantly in the association of the Lord, thus fulfilling the mission of going back home, back to Godhead. (Srila Prabhupada C.c. Madhya 15.180)

Muhammad Ali is no more around us but his message of peace is. His daughter Hana said on social medias, “Our father was a “Humble Mountain!” And now he has gone home to God. Pray for the peace of his beautiful soul and for the happiness of his further journey. God bless you daddy.” Let us humbly join in the prayers for the person who, despite his screaming and shouting at and about his challengers in and outside the boxing arena, was a humble person at heart. May God bless his eternal soul.